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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2007
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Athens wanting to keep bars out of downtown area
Councilman questions
legality of VFW sales

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — City leaders tweaked an alcohol ordinance to protect downtown from bars and clubs, and one person questioned whether a veterans group is following the law.

On Thursday, the Athens City Council had a called meeting after President Harold Wales heard a "credible rumor" that someone was interested in opening a bar downtown.

"It's vital to protect and maintain the integrity of downtown for families," Wales said.

Florence example

Mayor Dan Williams said the city is trying to get loft apartments downtown like Florence, and that Florence had a bad experience with an alcohol establishment.

"All you need is one to hurt the investment in downtown," Williams said.

The council voted unanimously to specify in its ordinance that only restaurants, convenience stores and grocery stores can sell alcohol downtown.

The changes also state that a bar, saloon or lounge can locate only in a general highway business district and those establishments must be at least 1,000 feet from each other, churches and schools.

Councilwoman Milly Caudle asked that the city include a definition for specialty shops because she heard someone wants to open a wine shop on the square. Attorney Shane Black said he will check with other cities and work with Caudle on a definition for such shops so they can operate in downtown.

The tweaked ordinance also will require clubs that are in residential areas and planned unit developments to apply for conditional use to get an alcohol license.

VFW questions

Wales asked if the VFW on Alabama 127, which is in a residential area, should have gotten conditional use. It now sells alcohol and advertises happy hour.

Black said the VFW got approval before the city's action Thursday. In its classification, it can sell beer and liquor. However, Black said, according to state law, class one clubs cannot sell to the public for monetary gain.

The law states that only members and bona fide guests can go to a club. It defines a bona fide guest as someone who has a social, civic, business or charitable relationship with the host. The law says a guest is not someone whose "primary purpose in attendance is for pecuniary benefit of the club."

When the VFW went before the council for its alcohol license in February, Roy Coulter, secretary/treasurer for the VFW, said the organization does not rent out its facility, and would only serve alcohol to members or guests of members. He said the VFW would serve beer, not liquor.

City Clerk John Hamilton said the VFW now serves liquor.

The VFW did not have a phone number for Coulter, and the e-mail listed for him on the Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce is out of date.

A road sign at the VFW advertised happy hour and no cover charge Thursday.

Black said the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control board would have to regulate whether the VFW or any club is allowing the public to patronize the establishment.

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